Saturday, 2 January 2016

'This Song Is (Not) For You' by Laura Nowlin

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

First things first I need to say a huge thank you to Sourcebooks Fire, for allowing me to review this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 
'Loving the drums hasn't made me love piano less. Just as Sam has stayed in my heart even after I fell for Tom. Some things, it seems, are always the same even after things change.' 
Sam and Ramona have a band together. Ramona has been in love with Sam since she met him, but there's no way she could tell him that and risk breaking up the band. Sam has been in love with Ramona too: but she's a confident girl, and if she liked him she definitely would have told him already.
So far, so cliched.
Then Sam and Ramona meet Tom, who becomes the vocalist for their band. The chemistry between the three of them is instantaneous, and their friendship becomes solid very quickly. But then things become difficult, because Ramona falls for Tom, and Tom likes her back.
Then things get even more complicated, because Tom is asexual and therefore has no intention of taking their relationship to the next level, and he's also in love with Sam. Sam is still in love with Ramona, but he realises he loves Tom in a non-sexual way too.
So, of course, the answer to this dilemma is to start a polyamorous relationship.
"I love you, and he loves you and I know he loves me too, and I think that we can all work this out. I mean, we'll have to talk to Tom about this obviously, but if everybody loves everybody, why should that be a problem? Why can't we all just be together?" 
Now, I don't have a problem with this resolution. I think there should be a lot more love in the world, and if it makes people happy and the situation is filled with honesty and mutual agreement, it's a genuine idea. But the instant and unquestioning acceptance seemed less realistic.
It is a very mature approach to the problem, that Sam comes up with this solution and both Ramona and Tom are automatically agreeable, but it would have been nice to see them flesh out the boundaries and discuss it, rather than have Ramona talk to Sam and then talk to Tom, running between the two and not explicitly tackling it in a group talk.
It meant that there wasn't really a plot to the book. Like, at all. Ramona likes two boys, Ramona gets both boys as her boyfriend. There's none of the trials and tribulations of them settling into their arrangement, or how the dynamic between them would change after they left high school and started at college - it seems as though the story is only beginning when the book comes to an end, which is a little disappointing.
I did like the fact that the book tackled a different type of relationship, which is something I haven't seen explored in YA before. I also appreciated the inclusion of an asexual character, which is something that has been severely lacking in the genre as a whole - I don't think he was written as well as he could have been, but just to have existed is indicative of a potential shift to feature more diverse characters.
It might be because the last book that I read was also a multiple perspective novel, and that really excelled in the difference in character voices, but I found that (apart from the constant mentions of glitter) the majority of Tom and Sam's chapters were actually interchangeable - worrying about their feelings, ruminating on how awesome Ramona was and struggling with what they wanted to happen in their futures. On the other hand, Ramona was almost too different: her nemesis in school refers to her as a "unique and special snowflake", and that's exactly what Ramona seems to be. A lot of her paragraphs end with "Anyway." as she jumps from one thought to another, making the narrative in her chapters rather disjointed and irritating to follow, and it just seems as though she's quirky for the sake of being quirky, and to give the boys good reasons to be so enthralled by her off the wall behaviour.
I did appreciate Tom's voice when he really got passionate about his beliefs, and I was surprised (in an awesome way) that he was a very strong feminist character. The overarching stereotype is that young males can't be feminists, which is why this is the kind of teenage male that needs more representation in literature:
"Doesn't it make you feel weird to be driving a car covered in glitter all across the city?"
"Why not?" I said. "Because you have to admit that you wouldn't be asking me that if I was a girl. Why is it that one gender gets to own a certain sort of reflective plastic? I think glitter is badass, and I refuse to abide by other people's irrational cultural assumptions." 
I also really appreciated Tom's attempts to beautify the city in which they lived, with his art project Glitter in Odd Places. The glitter bombing scenes, where they spray painted beautiful messages into rundown areas, were really lovely and I enjoyed them a lot - it's something that should definitely be legalised because it'll encourage artists and brighten places. Other than these brief explorations the setting wasn't focused upon - in fact, I knew it was set in St. Louis because it was mentioned a couple of times, but there was no feeling for the area and it didn't cause any emotional connections to the place.
I did enjoy 'This Song Is (Not) For You', despite the fact that it was all a little bit predictable, and I can appreciate the risks that Laura Nowlin took, but this wasn't the best contemporary I've read. I'd certainly like to see more books about polyamorous relationships, though, because it's something I'd like to learn more about. 

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